'Queer' host with toast makes the most
By Jill Wendholt Silva
Knight Ridder News Service
By Jill Wendholt Silva
Finally Ted Allen is willing to come out of the closet.
"OK, I feel a little silly about this," says Allen, who offers food and wine advice on Bravo's reality drama "Queer Eye for the Straight Guy." "I have a ridiculously expensive toaster. One of those Dualits."
Using a gift certificate, Allen bought the British-made iron maiden of the toaster world, which can cost up to $300. The styling of the Dualit is so sleek it has become the centerpiece of his New York kitchen, Allen said in a recent telephone interview to promote his first cookbook, "The Food You Want to Eat" (Potter, $27.50).
With the death of low-carb diets in 2005 — Atkins declared bankruptcy in August — toast is making a comeback. And, irony of ironies, last year was the 100th anniversary of the electric toaster. Now millions of toast lovers who have been lurking in the shadows fearing ridicule can feel in vogue again — as long as they choose to lightly caramelize (a scientific process known as the Maillard reaction) the surface of whole-grain breads.
Toasters took off in 1933 with the invention of sliced bread. Today nearly every home in America owns a toaster, which is in use about 35 hours every year. Americans are so passionate about their toast that 10 percent of U.S. adults "would rather eat toast in the morning than have sex," according to a Grain Foods Foundation Survey (www.grain power.org).
"I'm a big sandwich person, ever since the days Dagwood was in the paper every Sunday and he'd make these gargantuan sandwiches," Allen says. Coincidentally, several recipes in his cookbook are based on bread, including french toast, crostini and panzanella, an Italian bread salad.
"It just goes to show the versatility and importance of toasted bread in a lot of different cooking applications. We're calling attention to something people take for granted," Allen says.
But can making toast really be considered cooking? "It's a simple task, done in the kitchen, but it's cooking," he says.
The following recipe riffs on toast are from Allen's cookbook.
In a large bowl, whisk together the eggs, salt and vanilla.
Heat 1 tablespoon butter in a 9-inch frying pan over a medium flame until melted. Working with 1 piece at a time, turn 2 challah slices in the egg so that it soaks the bread. Put both slices in the pan. Cook until lightly browned on one side, 2 to 3 minutes. Turn with a spatula and cook for another 2 minutes, or until browned on the second side. Serve up those 2 slices immediately and continue cooking, using 1 tablespoon butter for each batch, until you've used all the bread and egg. Serve sprinkled with confectioners' sugar or with maple syrup or jam.
Makes 2 servings.
Crostini are crowd-pleasers and perfect for parties, Allen says. Try topping the small toasts with oven-dried tomatoes, white bean puree, green olive tapenade or roasted garlic.
Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Cut the baguette into thin slices on an angle, lay them on baking sheets and drizzle with olive oil. Bake until the crostini are beginning to brown and crisp, 10 to 12 minutes.
Makes 30 to 35 pieces.
Makes about 2 cups
Preheat oven to 250 degrees. Cut the tomatoes in half lengthwise, then squeeze them, cut sides down, over a sink to get rid of the seeds. Place them cut sides up on baking sheet. Sprinkle with the salt and herbs and drizzle with the olive oil. Put the tomatoes in the oven and let them dry out very slowly until the flavor has concentrated and they're wrinkly but still plump, 3 1/2 to 4 hours. Let them cool, then serve immediately with crostini. Or pack them in a jar with olive oil to cover; they will keep up to 2 weeks.
WHITE BEAN PUREE
Combine the beans, 5 tablespoons oil, garlic, lemon juice, sage, hot sauce, 1/8 teaspoon salt and pepper in food processor and puree. Scrape into a serving bowl with a rubber spatula and taste for salt; you might need to add more, depending on how salty the canned beans are. Drizzle with about 1 teaspoon olive oil and serve with the crostini.
That's the basic recipe, and you can leave it just like that. Or you can mess with it: Before adding the oil, stir in chopped parsley or basil, or sprinkle on top with ground cumin or paprika and/or either of the herbs, or scatter some tomatoes over the top.
Makes about 2 cups.
GREEN OLIVE TAPENADE
Combine everything in the food processor and process to a rough paste. Serve with crostini.
Makes about 1 cup.
Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Break apart the head of garlic into cloves (peels still on) and put in a small baking dish. Drizzle with oil, sprinkle with salt, and roast until tender, 25 to 30 minutes. Serve warm or at room temperature in little bowls: your guests can squeeze the soft garlic out of the skins onto crostini. Or, if you're feeling helpful, squeeze the garlic into little serving bowls and present them with small spreading knives.
Makes 1 head.
This recipe is only for tomato season. In most of the United States, that means August, September and October.
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
Cut the tomatoes into bite-size wedges and place in a large bowl. Add the zucchini, sprinkle with the salt, and let stand while you prepare the rest of the salad. The salt will soften the zucchini and draw liquid out of the tomatoes, making a delicious, tomato-y liquid that soaks and flavors the bread.
Cut the bread, with the crust, into 3/4- to 1-inch cubes. Toast in a 400-degree oven for 10 minutes; remove and cool.
To assemble the salad, first pat dry the zucchini on paper towels. In a large, attractive serving bowl, combine the tomatoes, zucchini, bread, vinegar and black pepper. Toss. Drizzle the Basil Oil over and toss again just before serving. It's also great served on a bed of greens, such as arugula or mesclun mix.
Makes 6 to 8 servings.
Bring a medium saucepan of water to a boil. Add the basil leaves and let them sit in the water until they turn bright green, about 15 seconds. Drain in a colander in the sink and immediately run cold water over the basil until chilled. Squeeze out the basil and pat dry between 2 paper towels.
Put the basil into a blender along with the garlic, scallion, salt, pepper and about half of the oil. Blend until smooth. Add the remaining oil and blend until combined. Pour into a container and use immediately, or refrigerate for 1 to 2 weeks. This is also good served with fish.
Makes 1 1/4 cups.